Socialism, Part Ten: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Three: Education

This is a continuation of a previous post.

In a previous post, I pointed out that Mr. Gindin claimed that the expansion of educational services would involve scarcity and therefore would require external or extrinsic motivation of some sort. (Mr,. Gindin is head of the Toronto Labour Committee and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor) union.

Let us look at part of a previous quote from Mr. Gindin’s writing on socialism:

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin’s use of “scarcity” is meant to show that he is being realistic. He claims the following:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of better health care, more and richer education,

Mr. Gindin prides himself on being realistic (his reference to “utopian fantasies” is meant to show this). In reality, he is a most conservative “socialist” (really a social democrat) who operates in terms of the capitalist economy and its social institutions.

He converts the relation between necessity and freedom in a socialist society into a false relation of mutual exclusivity. Thus, for him in the educational sphere an expansion of educational services necessarily leads to a diminution of resources in other areas. If, however, freedom and necessity are united and reinforce each other in the educational sphere and in other spheres (an internal relation of freedom to necessity), there need not arise such a diminution since human activity in other areas will, in turn, be enriched.

Mr. Gindin does not explore how educational institutions may change under a socialist system and how this might effect the relationship between necessity and freedom both in work and outside work.

John Dewey, an American philosopher of education, certainly did not believe that education excluded either necessity or freedom. Operating between 1896 and 1904 in Chicago, the University Laboratory School (commonly known as the Dewey School) used the common needs or common necessities of most of humanity for food, clothing and shelter as the point of development for children’s physical, intellectual, emotional, ethical and aesthetic development. By having children try to produce food, clothing and shelter in various historical epochs through the occupations associated with these needs, Dewey hoped to bridge the gap between intellectual and physical life that deeply divided American capitalist society.

Children started with purposes that they understood (the need or necessity for food, clothing and shelter) and were to come to understand the natural and social roots of varying the means for satisfying such common needs or common necessities.

Of course, the need for food and shelter (and, in most environments, the need for clothing), are given by the natural conditions of humans as living beings. They did not choose these conditions. However, through varying the means used by diverse historical societies, children can gradually come to learn about the potentialities of the natural world in diverse geographical areas and the diverse means by which human beings have come to produce their own lives. They learn increasingly how to control their own basic lives by experiencing diverse environments and diverse means by which to address problems associated with the satisfaction of the basic needs or necessities.

What of the learning of science? Does learning how to produce our basic necessities exclude the learning of science? Is there some sort of opposition between learning how to produce such basic necessities and the need to make choices about the learning of science? Does learning how to produce basic necessities in various environments involve a waste of time since the time could be spent learning about science? Mr. Gindin, with his false dichotomy of identifying the need to make choices with scarcity, would probably consider it necessary to choose between the learning how to produce the basic necessities and learning science.

Dewey, however, did not believe that learning how to produce the basic necessities and learning science were mutually exclusive. Human beings naturally focus on ends since they are living beings; means are secondary to the ends of life. Dewey repeats in a number of works his contention that human beings naturally are more concerned with ends than with means: “For men are customarily more concerned with the consequences, the “ends” or fruits of activity, than with the operations by means of which they are instituted” (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, 1938/1986, page 253). However, consideration of means is just as essential to the life process.

If intelligent action (which is what education needs to develop) involves the coordination and means and ends, then education needs to have children learn to shift from their concern or interest or natural proclivity towards ends to a concern with the conditions for the creation of those  ends and the coordination of the two.

Through engagement with the occupations linked to basic needs or necessities, the child gradually becomes conscious of the steps  required a as well as the material means necessary for the basic ends to be achieved. A shift in attitude gradually emerges, as means and their perfection become more important—but always-in relation to the end to be achieved.

The shifts from ends to means and their eventual coordinate relation can lead to the habit of ensuring that the ends desired are placed in the broader context of the means
required to achieve them, and the choice of means to achieve ends be placed in the wider context of the total process of their impact on oneself and others.

A shift from concern from ends to means as a temporary end in itself can thus form the basis for the development of science.

Analytic categories characteristic of the diverse sciences are to emerge gradually. For
instance, the study of chemistry emerged from the process of cooking as well as from the metallurgical processes associated with the basic occupations. Similarly, physics emerged from the processes of production and use of tools.

The basic occupations  provide a bridge between common-sense inquiry and scientific inquiry. Without such a bridge, science would remain vague and would likely be resisted. Moreover, hose who do tend towards an interest in scientific work as such would likely become remote from the concerns of the common person, and would fail to understand how science is, ultimately, instrumental to-the human life process.

On the other hand-, the common, person could fail to appreciate how science can enrich her life and how it does affect her life in the modern epoch. For instance, Dewey mentions how metallurgical operations performed by human beings to transform metals into something useful resulted in the identification of about half a dozen metals (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry). By abstracting from the immediate relation between human beings and substances of the Earth, science has enabled human beings to identify over 60 metals. Through scientific inquiry, differentiation of metals and their diverse uses have expanded substantially in a relatively short period of time. The common person needs to understand the, need, (or scientific inquiry in relation to the limitations of common-sense inquiry as the scientist needs to understand that scientific inquiry may be an end for her but instrumental for many people.

The point of this is to show that the allocation of resources to the expansion of educational services need not entail some sort of “scarcity” merely because the allocation of resources to schools entails the non-allocation of resources in other areas. The allocation of resources in one area can result in the transformation of individuals into individuals with expanded horizons. The expansion of horizon can, in turn, lead to enhancement of experiences in other areas in a qualitative feedback loop that enhances the totality of live experiences.

As long as the resources allocated to schools involve the enrichment of both the living and social nature of human beings in a coherent fashion (taking into account both their nature as living beings and as social beings), the allocation of resources need not involve some sort of limit to other social activities; the necessity of producing food, clothing and shelter can lead to an expanded horizon and thereby to enhanced freedom.

Schools, if they contribute to the growth of children, would form one of many institutions that would contribute to the qualitative enhancement of our lives as individuals and as social individuals in a unique way.

An analogy may help. Look at your own body. You need your own kidneys in order to clean your blood of impurities and excrete them in the form of urine.  The energy allocated to this function limits the energy that can be allocated to your other organs. However, your other organs should not have all your energy allocated to them; there must be a balance between the allocation of your total energy to the diverse organs and their functions, with some organs requiring more energy, others less, depending on a number of circumstances (level of current activity, age, gender and so forth). Merely because each organ has a limited amount of energy and resources allocated to it does not mean that there is some sort of “scarcity” of energy and resources. Your freedom to move about in an effective–and graceful–manner depends on the varying allocation of resources and energy to diverse parts of the body.

If schools develop individuals who can appreciate the continuity (and difference) between their common-sense experiences and scientific experience, the resources allocated to it will feed back into other institutions in a coherent fashion.

Furthermore, individual children will gradually discover what unique contributions they can make to others, and they will come to appreciate the unique contributions of others to their lives.

This process of receiving something unique from others and contributing something unique to others defines the nature of true individuality. True individuality means the impossibility of substitution of function. Individuality is not only unique existentially—all existences are unique–but also functionally; structure and function meld into each other. Means and ends become one unique event that persists as unique in its actualization.

Modern human relations need to “capture” individual variations since modern human nature can advance only through such variations. These variations are unique. From John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916/2004, page 96):

… he [Plato) had no perception of’ the uniqueness of individuals. … There being no recognition that each individual constitutes his own class, there could be no recognition of the infinite diversity of active tendencies and combinations of tendencies of which an individual is capable.

Plato also did not recognize that stability or harmony could arise through unique changes. From Democracy and Education, page 97:

But it is true that lacking the perception of the uniqueness of every individual, his incommensurability with others, and consequently not recognizing that a society might change and yet be stable, his [Plato’s] doctrine of limited powers and classes came in net effect to the idea of the subordination of individuality.

The emergence of distinct .or unique individuals arises from the process of acting
within a social environment; individuality is an achievement and not a presupposition. From John Dewey (1922), Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology, page 84:

This fact is accentuated and made fundamental by the fact of infancy— the fact
that each human being begins life completely dependent upon others. The net outcome accordingly is that what can be called distinctively individual in behavior
and mind is not, contrary to traditional theory, an original datum.

The development of a unique function and the reception of unique functions from others constitutes an essential element of freedom, and the development of such unique functions can only arise in conjunction with the realm of necessity and not apart from it. From Jan Kandiyali (2017), pages 833-839, “Marx on the Compatibility of Freedom and Necessity: A Reply to David James,”  European Journal of Philosophy, volume 25, page 837:

The key point is that Marx is describing a communist society as one in which individuals achieve self‐realization through labour—by helping others to satisfy their needs. Thus, … Marx claims that in non‐alienated production, I would enjoy an individual expression of life during production and in knowing my personality to be manifest in the product I create. However, … Marx emphasizes how my production satisfies another’s need, and how that production for another contributes to my own, as well as the other’s, self‐realization. Thus, when you consume my product, I experience the enjoyment of knowing that my activity has satisfied your need. Because I have satisfied your need, you recognize me as the ‘completion’ of your essential nature. And finally, because I recognize that you appreciate my production for you, my cognizance of your appreciation completes my self‐realization.

What I want to emphasize is that this account of self‐realization through labour that meets the needs of others, labour that characterizes production in a communist society, involves a distinctive conception of the relationship between freedom and necessity. According to this conception, freedom is not merely compatible with necessity. Rather, the necessity of labour is part of the explanation for why labour is a free and self‐realizing activity. For it is only in labour that ‘I would have the direct enjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied a human need’, and it is only when I have satisfied another’s need that I can be recognized as completing another’s ‘essential nature’.

Mr. Gindin, with his talk of scarcity, has a mechanical conception of human nature and of human relations. It is a conception which splits human beings into beings of necessity (beings of nature) and beings of freedom (social beings).

This mechanical conception if human nature and human relations is shared by his colleague, Herman Rosenfeld (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Five: More Philosophical Considerations). There seems to be a pattern emerging here: social democrats or social reformers view other people and human relations as external to each other–like ping pong balls rather than living and breathing beings with the capacity to engage in conscious and organized self-change.

Mr. Gindin also has a mechanical view of the relation of art in a socialist society since it, too, is restricted by “scarcity.” A critical analysis of such a view will be posted in the future.

Socialism and Central Planning: Mr. Gindin’s Analysis of The Political Situation of Workers in General, Part Two

The following is the second of a two-part series on Bill Resnick’s interview with Sam Gindin, in accordance with the two-part presentation of the interview. I put my summary of Mr. Gindin’s talk in italics; my comments are in regular print. I also use italics when quoting others.

According to Bill Resnick, part two is an exploration of the potentialities for stimulating the working class from its lethargic state of passivity, cynicism and individual self-defense in order to inspire people to recognize their powers and capacities and thereby a socialist society.

Mr. Resnick then claims that climate change will oblige us to think how the economy is working.

Moving on to Mr. Gindin’s views, Mr. Gindin claims that it will be the environment that will be the key issue in relation to inequality. The rich are satisfied with the status quo of environmental conditions since they do not have to suffer the consequences from its deterioration.

Mr. Gindin then refers to the situation in Oshawa. He points out that, despite workers losing their jobs anyway, any suggestion of a serious alternative still meets with resistance since they have experienced thirty or forty years of lowering their expectations of what is possible. Their response to a left alternative is that it is a great idea, but it will never happen because they do not see their unions fighting for it nor do they see that larger social force fighting for it.

We should pause here. When have most unions, even during the 1950s, 1960s and the 1970s, generally fought for a larger vision of socialism? Most unions accepted the justice of collective bargaining and of collective agreements. Mr. Gindin implies that before the onset of neoliberalism 30 or 40 years ago, unions did have a larger social vision. That is a myth.

Indeed, red-baiting and the expulsion of communists from the Canadian labour movement forms part of the history of unions in Canada–a fact which Mr. Gindin conveniently ignores (see Irving Abella, The Canadian Labour Movement, 1902-1960). Social democracy won out within unions over any radical vision of society.

Why does Mr. Gindin ignore such facts? It is likely that Mr. Gindin indulges his supporters rather than taking the necessary step to criticize them. He probably panders after union support rather than criticizing the limitations of unions–including the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements.

He fails to criticize the responsibility of unions for, historically, partially contributing to the suppression of an alternative vision.

By the way, Mr. Gindin’s reference to the environment as being the key to inequality lacks any historical and factual basis. Where is there evidence that it is the environment that forms the center around which people are willing to fight against those in power and attempt to defeat them? It is the daily grind of working and living in a society dominated by a class of employers that will form the key issue–a social relation, and not the “environment” in the abstract sense of “nature” or environmental conditions in a general sense.  Mr. Gindin, as I indicated in my earlier post, wants to jump on the bandwagon of environmentalism in general and the climate crisis in particular in order to prop up his appeal. I doubt that he will be successful.

Mr. Gindin then argues that we need to develop structures through which people can fight so that they can gain a clear vision of the forces that support them and the forces that oppose them as well as understanding the importance of collective action for realizing workers’ aims. That is why political parties are important because they form a space for strategizing about what needs to be done. We must take organizing seriously.

Mr. Gindin then reiterates how impressed he is about what the environmental movement has done. However, he points out the limitations of that movement, that criticizes corporate power or the 1% but does not seriously propose taking power away from them. It is insufficient to merely lobby against them. If we are going to have [democratic] planning, we cannot have corporations making the investment decisions.

Mr. Gindin is certainly correct to point out the limitations of the environmental movement–but he should be consistent and point out the limitations of unions as unions in relation to collective bargaining and collective agreements. He does not. He avoids alienating his social-democratic supporters. Is that what is needed at present?

Furthermore, he refers to the importance of organization–but is organization by itself going to lead to the questioning of corporate power? Ms. McAlevey does not question such power. Social democrats do not question such power. Both engage in organizing of one sort or another. It is not, then, organizing in general that is the issue but what kind of organizing–on what basis? Organizing from the start needs to question corporate power–and that includes questioning the legitimacy of their power to manage workers as such. We may need to make compromises along the way, as embodied in a collective agreement, but let us not bullshit the workers by calling such agreements or contracts “fair,” “just” and other such euphemisms.

To be consistent, Mr. Gindin should question the limitations of unions and union organizers in relation to collective bargaining and collective agreements. Why does he not do so?

Mr. Gindin claims that struggles are fundamental and that they develop the capacity to recognize the limits of being militant. They develop democratic capacities that prevent them from accepting authority.

Workers certainly do learn the limitations of being militant (they get fired, for example), but such a lesson hardly need translate into learning the limitations of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements.  Workers may blame unions for the limitations of militancy–unless the limitations of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements are pointed out, on the one hand, and an alternative vision of what may be is outlined, on the other.

Although struggles are certainly necessary, are they sufficient to enable workers to come to the conclusion that the authority of the class of employers should be questioned? What is more likely is that such struggles will lead to criticisms of particular aspects of such power but not that power as such. Mr. Gindin vastly underestimates the ideological hold this kind of society has on workers and how it is vital to engage in constant ideological struggle if we are to develop democratically to the point where we can consciously and organizationally take corporate power away.

We need to take state power, but not just that. We need to take state power and transform that power so that we can develop our democratic capacity so that there is, on the one hand, a check on what the state does and, on the other, that people are actually participating in state power. This requires developing the technical capacity of ordinary workers to make appropriate decisions that affect their lives and not just having scientists come into government to make decisions for us.

We certainly do need to take state power–and transform it. However, if we are to do this consciously from the start, then we need to question the present state structures in their various dimensions. For example, we need to question the current educational structures, with their emphasis on assigning marks or grades to students, their separation of curriculum into academic (intellectual) and non-academic (vocational, which allegedly has more to do with the body), and so forth. When I belonged to the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly GTWA (which morphed into the Toronto Labour Committee), of which Mr. Gindin was practically the head, Mr. Jackson Potter was invited to discuss how the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) organized and led a successful strike. I eventually wrote up a critique of one of the CTU’s documents (see my article “A Deweyan Review of the Chicago Teachers‘ Union Publication The Schools Chicago Students Deserve: Research-Based Proposals to Strengthen Elementary and Secondary Education in the Chicago Public Schools” in the Publications and Writings section of this blog). The response of the GTWA to my critique was–silence.

Education, of course, is just one area that needs to be restructured through the abolition of its repressive features. The courts, police and the legal system need to be radically transformed as well (as I argued in another post and about which Mr Gindin was silent (see   Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part Two). Health is of course another area which needs to be radically restructured and its repressive features abolished (see various posts on the health and safety of workers on this blog).

Mr. Resnick then mentions Lucas Aerospace, which closed; in response,  and workers came up with a plan to change things by focusing on products needed by the community. Workers built a powerful movement both inside and outside the union.

Mr. Gindin points out that Lucas ended in defeat. Nevertheless, what is inspiring in the case of Lucas and in Oshawa is the focus on producing not for profit but for social need, which stimulates the imagination and leads to diverse creative ideas. The problem is that you need the power to implement them.

You do indeed need the power to implement them. The illusion that workers have much power through collective bargaining and collective agreements needs to be constantly criticized so that they can begin to organize to challenge the power of employers as a class and not just particular employers. In other words, it requires ideological struggle and not just “organizational” struggle. How workers are to build power when they have faith in the collective-bargaining system and collective agreements is not something Mr. Gindin addresses. Why is that? Why does he ignore such a central issue when it comes to talking about unionized workplaces?

Mr. Gindin then points out that people do rebel, but the problem is how to sustain that rebellion.

That is indeed a problem, but failing to criticize one of the keystones of modern unions–collective bargaining and collective agreements–surely impedes a sustained effort at rebellion. Faith in the collective-bargaining process is bound to lead to cynicism since the cards are stacked against workers from the beginning because of the implicit or explicit management rights clause that exists in the collective agreement–and yet workers are fed the ideology that collective agreements are “fair,” “just” and so forth.

Mr. Gindin next claims that people can see that capitalism is not the ultimate end of history since it does not address their needs nor the needs of the environment.

This gives way too much trust in people’s rhetorical criticism of capitalism but their real acceptance of it–as he himself earlier implied. People lack a vision of a better world and accept, reluctantly at times, the so-called inevitability of capitalism in practice. Social democrats may refer to capitalism this and capitalism that, but they do not really seek to overthrow the power of employers.

Mr. Resnick then refers to racial, gender and sexual orientation as divisions that will be overcome in the social movement. Mr. Gindin does not specifically address these issues but claims that when people work together, they begin to form common dreams as they realize they have common problems.

Is there evidence that workers in the closed GM plant at Oshawa now are opposed to the power of employers as a class? After all, surely some of the workers for GM at Oshawa have come together and discussed some of their common problems. Yet earlier Mr. Gindin pointed out that there is much cynicism among such workers. It is not only insufficient for workers to get together and to discuss common problems–since there is such a thing as their immediate common problem–which centers around a particular employer, and the common problem of having to work for an employer as such (any employer)–a problem that is rarely if ever discussed.

Furthermore, Mr. Gindin’s view is not only naive, but there is evidence that contradicts it. As a member of the Toronto Labour Committee, and in good faith, I tried to bring up the issue, in the context of striking brewery workers, of whether their work constituted “decent work” and whether the wages that they sought should be called “fair wages.” I was met with insults by one trade unionist. Mr. Gindin, in addition, claimed that the reference to “decent work” was a purely defensive move. That is nonsense; it is ideology, and should have been criticized. People did not work together over the issue of the legitimacy of collective bargaining and collective agreements; the issue was simply buried through insults and the rhetoric of “defense.”

There is a continuation of the theme that organization is the key–it is insufficient to become aware or that capitalism is bad.

Mr. Gindin fails to see the need to combine a specific kind of organization with ideological struggle. To be sure, without organization workers cannot gain power, but workers will unlikely gain power without engaging in organization and ideological struggle simultaneously. Mr. Gindin minimizes the importance of ideological struggle and exaggerates the importance of mere changes in organizational struggles (such as Ms. McAlevey’s innovations in organizing). Both are required simultaneously, and that means engaging in an ideological battle with the traditional left. Mr. Gindin, however, indulges the social-democratic left and panders to them by avoiding an ideological struggle. Any organization that emerges as a consequence will unlikely be more than an organization that accepts the power of employers as a class.

For Mr. Gindin, what has been defeated is the socialist idea.

That idea was long ago defeated–few workers in Canada adhered to it even in the 1960s and 1970s. Furthermore, Mr. Gindin now implies that ideological struggle is indeed vital–but he implied just above that it was not that important–that organization was vital. Or is he now arguing that both organizational and ideological struggle are vital? If so, why does he not explicitly engage in ideological struggle with his social-democratic supporters?

The following does indeed imply that it is vital to unify organizational and ideological struggle:

We have to organize to end capitalism.

Good. To do so, however, requires meeting objective conditions–and one of those conditions is criticizing those within the labour movement who idealize organizing efforts that merely lead to collective bargaining and collective agreements (such as Tracy McMaster, union steward, organizer, former vice president, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), “our Tracy,” as Mr. Gindin once called her). Mr. Gindin, by not criticizing Ms. McMaster’s reference to “decent work” and “fair wages” fails to meet such objective conditions for the ending of capitalism.

However, Mr. Gindin then makes the following claim:

People see through the system.

Do they really? I doubt it. This view vastly underestimates the ideological hold that the power of employers in its various facets has on workers and the repressive character of various institutions–from work institutions to state institutions People do not see through the system. If they did, they would not pair the struggle for a minimum wage of $15 (and needed reforms in employment law) with the concept of “fairness” so nonchalantly. They would not call collective agreements fair, nor would they imply that there is a relatively equal power between organized (unionized) workers and employers.

Mr. Gindin once again minimizes the ideological struggle.

The issue of a worsening environment through global warming then comes up. Mr. Gindin argues once again that access to the environment will be one of the great inequalities of our times–access to the environment.

As I argued in the previous post, Mr. Gindin’s concept of the environment is faulty. The environment of human beings has included the use of land and tools for millenia. That access has been denied with the emergence of classes and some form of private property (and communal property can be private property relative to another communal property). Access to the environment has always been a class issue–even before capitalism.

An environmental crisis may lead to authoritarian structures arising rather than democratic ones. One of the problems is that people do not see structures through which they can work, commit and have confidence that such issues will be addressed–and this includes unions and political parties. People know that something is wrong, but they lack the confidence of getting at it. That is why fighting through unions is so important; you learn on a daily basis that collectively you can effect things: you can affect your workplace, you can affect your foremen, you can have different kinds of relationships to your workmates.

It keeps coming down to whether people do not know enough or whether people do not see the structures through which they can fight through and win. Mr. Gindin believes it is the lack of structures which forms the problem, not whether people do not know enough,

Mr. Gindin’s criticisms of unions is welcome–but too general and vague to be much help. He should elaborate on why unions are not the structures through which people can “work, commit and have confidence” that their problems will be addressed adequately. Why such a vague characterization of the inadequacy of unions and union structures? What is it about union structures that prevents workers from having the confidence and the commitment to work though them to achieve their goals?

Again, Mr. Gindin underestimates the importance of ideological struggle within the labour movement in general and the union movement in particular.

The labour movement, despite having been kicked around for the last 30 or 40 years, has not concluded that we need to unite in class terms. Certainly, engaging in resistance is vital, but what have we learned from such resistance? To push harder for our own particular agenda, or have we learned that we need a class perspective to address our problems? That we need to recognize that gender, race and wage inequalities must be overcome so that we can function as a class? That does not happen automatically and has not happened automatically. That class perspective has to be built. Otherwise, workers are only individual, fragmented workers with particular identities separate from each other. We need to make ourselves a collective force–a class; it does not happen spontaneously. The potential for workers to make themselves a class has increased, but the potential will not be actualized automatically.

There are various openings or potentialities for politicization, but we should not exaggerate this by arguing that we are well on the way to winning. People are willing to fight, but then the question is: How do we actually organize ourselves to win. We are not very far along in that road.

That road is socialism, which allows the best aspects of humanity to develop.

Certainly, divisions within the working class need to be recognized and overcome in order to form a class. A class perspective needs to be fought for in various fronts. Unfortunately, Mr. Gindin does not see that such a class perspective requires a confrontation with the ideology of the legitimacy of collective bargaining and collective agreements. There will be no spontaneous overcoming of the organizational limitations of unions (including the ones proposed by Ms. McAlevey in her various books) unless the legitimacy of collective bargaining and collective agreements is called into question. This does not mean that unions would not engage in collective bargaining or not have collective agreements voted on; rather, the limitations of collective bargaining and the corresponding limitations of collective agreements would be explicitly recognized via a class perspective, which permits recognition of the need for temporary truces because of a relative lack of power.

My prediction is that Mr. Gindin’s efforts in Oshawa will be in vain since he underestimates greatly the need for ideological struggle in general and the struggle in particular for union members to recognize the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements not just rhetorically or by way of lip service but rather practically by ceasing every opportunity to demonstrate their limitations and the need for an organization that addresses such limitations–a socialist organization.

Socialism, Part Ten: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Two

This is a continuation of a previous post.

In a previous post, I criticized Mr. Gindin’s view that leisure is the pure realm of freedom. (Sam Gindin is (or was) head of the Toronto Labour Committee and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor)). In this post, I will criticize his view that work, being a world of necessity, requires external incentives.

Let us look at part of a previous quote from Mr. Gindin’s writing on socialism:

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin’s superficial imagination leads him to apply the current poverty of work relations, implicitly, as the standard for determining the so-called “realm of necessity.” Like leisure, which is supposed to be the pure realm of freedom, he separates freedom and necessity at work.

Consider my work at the brewery in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. When I worked at the brewery, we were obliged to work to produce not only beer, but beer for the market, and not only for the market but for the ultimate goal of more profit. We were things to be used by the employer (see https://theabolitionary.ca/the-money-circuit-of-capital/).

The riveting of material production to the goal of profit as the ultimate goal prevents workers who produce beer from reorganizing their lives both inside and outside the brewery in such a way that they can integrate their working lives with other aspects of the process of producing beer. For example, at the brewery in Calgary, there was a chemist who probably, among other things, tested the quality and properties of the beer being produced (being “only a bottling worker,” I really did not understand what the chemist did when I worked at the brewery).

Mr. Gindin tips his hand by referring to “scarcity” as somehow requiring incentives. He fails to explore what is meant by “incentives,” but implicitly assumes that all incentives are external and cannot be internal to the process which produces beer–a mechanical materialist point of view.

Under a socialist way of life, initially, workers would produce beer for others via the market. Even at this stage, here is no reason why workers could not begin to integrate a study of chemistry with the production of beer. The same could be said of the mechanics, physics and mathematics of beer production. For example, the filler–a machine for the filling of beer bottles rotated in a circular motion, with spouts attached to the machine. The velocity of rotation, the speed of the incoming bottles and so forth could be calculated and adjusted to attain certain specific rates of output and qualities of beer production (rather than being externally specified by managers as the representatives of employers).

John Dewey, an American philosopher of education, pointed out somewhere that there is no such thing as a purely biological human experience, a purely mathematical human experience, a purely physical human experience and so forth. Human experience is all those aspects and more. The apparently most mundane human act or experience contains a rich variety of potentially worthwhile pursuits that can be analyzed and pursued in ever greater depth and breadth. The production of beer can be integrated into the study of chemistry, physics, mechanics, biology, mathematics, history, geography and other sciences. Despite beer production being instrumental for the production of beer as a consumer good, it could be the point of departure for the infinite expansion of the capacities of workers who produce beer–with the only limit being their own capacities for the pursuit of such sciences and the finite period of time in which they live on this planet before dying. Workers could thus freely expand their intellectual and physical horizons even when they produce beer.

Mr. Gindin’s superficial separation of freedom and necessity at work, like his superficial separation of freedom and necessity during leisure hours (as pointed out in the previous post), leads him to false conclusions concerning the nature of work in a socialist society. This should not surprise anyone.

Mr. Gindin’s false conclusions concerning the nature of the relationship of freedom and necessity under socialism go beyond the issue of leisure and work. He claims the following in relation to education and art, among other areas of human life:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of better health care, more and richer education, greater care for the aged, the expansion of art and of cultural spaces — all of which require labor time and generally also complementary material goods. That is, they demand choices.

In another post, I will show that Mr. Gindin’s reference to “more and richer education” can integrate–contrary to Mr. Gindin’s mechancial separation of the two–both elements of necessity and freedom. I may also address in a future post his claim that the demand for the expansion of art somehow involves the separation of necessity and freedom.

 

The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part One

I had a short debate with the academic philosopher Jeff Noonan on his blog. I am pasting it here since there was no further reply to my criticisms on his post.

[Jeff’s reply] Hi Fred,
Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful comments. Some brief replies:

[My initial reply]: Some of the above post is dead on, but there are some points that are debatable.

[Jeff’s initial post] “If another equally well-paying job could immediately replace the one they lost, then change would just be that: change, neither better nor worse. But as manufacturing jobs in old plants and industries disappear, they are not replaced with equally good manufacturing jobs in new industries that locate in historical working class communities. Workers suffer.”

[My initial reply] Undoubtedly workers suffer, but it would be more accurate to say that they suffer more. Relatively high-paying jobs do not mean that they do not suffer. Having worked at a brewery for around four years, where the wage was relatively high, I certainly suffered by being treated as a thing for the benefit of employers.

[Jeff’s reply] True enough, I did not intend to supply a complete critique of the problems of work under capitalism, but to speak to the immediate situation on the ground when well-paying jobs are lost.

[Jeff’s initial post] “Localised struggles, on the other hand, while they are demanded by the dignity of the affected workers, cannot succeed. So long as investment decisions are driven by calculations of profitability, and profitability depends on competitive forces, workers in older industries will eventually have to pay the price that creative destruction demands: unemployment and then re-employment in lower paying service industry work.”

[My initial reply] Localised struggles are part and parcel of global struggle.

[Jeff’s reply] Yes, true again: I should have said: isolated and reactive local struggles.
Where else do struggles take place except “locally.” The issue is how such local struggles are handled. If workers consciously link such struggles to a struggle against the class of employers and attempt to link with other workers across industries (and across the private/public divide), then they cannot succeed immediately but do have a better capacity to succeed globally and in the longer term.

[Jeff’s initial post] ” part of the problem with capitalism is that there really is not any one to blame.”

[My initial reply] True in an abstract sense since no particular individuals are responsible for structural conditions that exceed particular individuals. However, three points can be made against such a view. Employers, although they cannot be identified with the structural conditions of capitalism (eliminate all employers and workers themselves still may perform that role structurally) are the immediate set of persons who can be considered responsible agents for those structural conditions.

[Jeff’s reply] True, but changing them does not change anything: case in point: the obsession in the US liberal left today with the gnder and coloiur of the boss: it does not matter to their function as bosses).

[My initial reply] Then there are the direct and obvious ideologues and representatives of the interests of employers. There is also the social-reformist left, who categorically refuse to consider any changes to the present social structure except those that are consistent with the general structure.

[Jeff’s reply] I think we need to forget about revolution/reform as a fundamental and meaningful political difference today and start to think about working out a common agenda of structural change that can take us from where we are to a democratic life-economy (where we need to be) The social-reformist left has problems, but the ‘revolutionary’ left suffers from the problem of not existing as in any sense a meaningful political force, and has no model (save archaic Leninist ideas) about how to build. If nineteenth and early twentieth century ideas about revolution were going to work they would have worked 100 years ago. Historical materialism requires new political thinking in new times. The organizational forms that will attract and unify people have yet to be found. Most times I worry they never will be.

“Reducing that dependence means reducing the social and personal costs of plant closures and job losses.”

[My reply] This statement is consistent with social-reformist positions. See above.

When I was younger, unemployment insurance was 66% of wages and there was no issue of eligibility if you quit or were fired. We workers were less dependent economically on employers in general. That does not mean that we lived in a socialist society.

Admittedly, the context seems to be a socialist economy, but given the predominance of social-reformist thinking among the left these days, to prevent any misinterpretation, it would be necessary to make more explicit the distinction between reducing economic dependence as part and parcel of a larger project of eliminating capitalist relations and reducing economic dependence as the goal of the social-reformist left.

[Jeff’s initial post] “Sadly, imagination does not pay the bills. Hence the political paradox that bedevils all efforts to solve the underlying structural problems that manifest themselves as local tragedies. In order to survive, people are forced to think short term. Desperate times make some prey to the illusions spun by right-wing populists that their problems are due to political enemies or other (foreign) workers. In order to free themselves from the capricious destructiveness of capitalism, people must think long term about how to build new economic values and institutions rooted in and growing up from our shared fundamental needs. But then those needs call out, from the stomach and the head, and people have to shelve their imaginations and find another job.”

[My initial reply] From a political point of view, it is hardly accurate. The social-reformist left goes out of its way to focus on short-term goals, thus contributing to the need to focus on immediate bread-and-butter issues. The pairing of the Fight for $15 with the idea of fairness expresses such a limitation. It ideologically implies that working for an employer, with the changes corresponding to Bill 148, somehow constitutes a fair system. The social-reformist left constantly contributes to short-sightedness by becoming ideologues for the present system.

[Jeff’s reply] But calling for radical change in a political vacuum without any coherent organization will not mobilise anyone.

[My initial reply] But then again, I am a condescending prick according to Wayne Dealy, union rep for CUPE 3902. All the above should be discounted. Unions and union reps know best.

My response to Jeff’s intervention (to which Jeff did not reply. References like “Jeff’s reply” refer to his reply, to my initial reply and not to any further reply by Jeff to my intervention]:
Fred Harris on December 4, 2018 at 4:24 pm said:
[Jeff’s reply] “Yes, true again: I should have said: isolated and reactive local struggles.”
[My reply] This is related to further arguments provided below:

[Jeff’s reply] “I think we need to forget about revolution/reform as a fundamental and meaningful political difference today and start to think about working out a common agenda of structural change that can take us from where we are to a democratic life-economy (where we need to be) The social-reformist left has problems, but the ‘revolutionary’ left suffers from the problem of not existing as in any sense a meaningful political force, and has no model (save archaic Leninist ideas) about how to build. If nineteenth and early twentieth century ideas about revolution were going to work they would have worked 100 years ago. Historical materialism requires new political thinking in new times. The organizational forms that will attract and unify people have yet to be found. Most times I worry they never will be.”

[My reply] ] I do not think that the reform/revolution divide is archaic. I see no point in even referring to revolution as a term–it puts workers off and is a distraction from real tasks. However, the idea of radical change as opposed to reformism is certainly relevant.

[Jeff’s reply] “think about working out a common agenda of structural change that can take us from where we are to a democratic life-economy (where we need to be) The social-reformist left has problems”

[Fred] My view is that there is no common agenda of structural change since most so-called leftists have simply thrown in the towel and, at a practical level, believe in the TINA syndrome. When, for example, the Fight for $15 and “Fairness” campaign was introduced, was there any discussion of the appropriateness of pairing the fight with the concept of fairness? How democratic was such discussion? The social-reformist left really do not want to discuss structural change but prefer to pat themselves on the back and think they are progressive and righteous.

Are there not conditions for structural change? Are the social-reformist left willing to take seriously the requirements for structural change? Why did OCAP, in arguing against basic income, point out that capitalism is characterized by economic coercion and then, in the same breath, ignore this fact throughout its pamphlet? Why did David Bush, an activist in Toronto, argue that the fight for $15 was fair and yet provided no argument for such fairness? Why did Jane McAlevey, in her most recent book, constantly refer to “a good contract?” On ideological and practical grounds, many who identify as the left act as if there was such a thing as fairness within capitalism.

If that is so, then are they really not an impediment to structural change? Do they not share some of the same assumptions as the right?

What should one do when an activist refers to “decent work” and “fair wages,” as Tracy McMaster did when calling out support for striking brewery workers? Not bring up the issue at all?

There is little discussion among the so-called left in Canada about such issues–and that is part of the problem.

So, I fail to see how the reform/structural change issue is irrelevant. If it were irrelevant, I would still be attending the Toronto Labour Committee, headed by Sam Gindin, Herman Rosenfeld and Paul Gray. However, the reaction of these and others within the committee when I called into question Tracy McMaster’s use of the concepts of “decent work” and “fair wages” reflected, as far as I can see, an attitude that does not reflect my experiences in this world and my attitude towards employers. They reacted as if it did not matter.

It certainly matters to me. How can any socialist not object to the use of such terms? And yet there is a decided lack of discussion about such terms and what they mean in the context of the power of a class of employers.

So, the social-reformist left not only have problems–they are one of the problems. They categorically refuse to take seriously the need for addressing the issue of structural change now, not as somehow immediately capable of being addressed, but at least of making the issue public and out in the open.

As John Dewey pointed out, a goal or aim in view, if it is a real goal, is used in the present as a means of organizing present activity in order to achieve the goal in the first place. A goal that is divorced from organizing the present is a fantasy.

Does the social-reformist left really organize its activities with the goal of “working out a common agenda of structural change that can take us from where we are to a democratic life-economy (where we need to be)?”

I withdrew from the Toronto Labour Committee because it became clear to me that its members are too closely tied to unions and fear alienating them. Structures are somehow going to be created from within without calling into question from the beginning exploitative and oppressive social structures. And yet, just as change can only occur spatially initially at the local level, it can also only occur in the present and not in some distant future.

“but the ‘revolutionary’ left suffers from the problem of not existing as in any sense a meaningful political force, and has no model (save archaic Leninist ideas) about how to build. If nineteenth and early twnetieth centiury ideas about revolution were going to work they would have worked 100 years ago. Historical materialism requires new political thinking in new times. The organizational forms that will attract and unify people have yet to be found. Most times I worry they never will be.”

To be a meaningful political force in a structural sense at least requires an attempt to aim at addressing structural conditions of oppression and exploitation in the present and to transform them into something else. The first thing to be done is to recognize that it is necessary to stop justifying those very structures with such platitudes as “fairness” and so forth. The issue of fairness, etc. is hardly irrelevant, and yet the social-reformist left act as if it either does not matter, or that the issue has already been settled.

This romanticism of the concept of “revolution” sounds realistic, but for anyone who works for an employer and hates it, the issue is not about “revolution” but how to stop being treated as a thing. Does the social-reformist left really address this issue? Why did not the so-called social-reformist left criticize Pam Frache and others for pairing the Fight for $15 with “fairness”? I tried to at a meeting (chaired by Sean Smith), raised my hand maybe four times (I was going to ask that very question) and was never recognized by the chair.

The issue is not “revolution.” The issue is–not bullshitting workers with such rhetoric as “fairness.” It is to treat their suffering and their class hatred as real (if hidden) and to address their being subjects who are simultaneously treated as objects (who may not want to admit that fact to themselves but who experience degradation of themselves in various ways. What of Tim Horton’s workers not having the right to sit down on the job? Why not? What of the many, many other ways in which the daily oppression and exploitation of workers was simply ignored? All the focus on Bill 148 left the entire structural power of employers out of the discussion–by pairing that Bill with fairness? Or what of JFAAP and unions using the slogan “Fair Labour Laws Save Lives.”

And so forth.

Structural change is not on the agenda for most of the so-called left in Toronto–and structural change is revolutionary, even if the word is not used. The reformist left reject any real organization and practice in the present with the end-in-view of realizing structural change that results in a movement “that can take us from where we are to a democratic life-economy (where we need to be).”

The first requirement, as far as I can see, is to openly discuss what regular workers who work for employers experience (and not what union reps claim they experience) and why they experience it with the purpose of doing something about ending such experience. Openly discussing such issues itself requires struggle–for the social-reformist left does not engage in such discussion nor does it seem to want to do so. In fact, its attitude is that openly discussing such issues is a waste of time and is generally hostile to such open discussion. What is required is pure practice–out on the streets for whatever reason–or pure rhetoric, without really addressing the vast gap between such rhetoric and the daily experiences of regular working people. One of the reasons that the so-called left is no political force, as I maintained, is because it itself does not call into question its own assumptions.

As for the “revolutionary” left: again, the idea of revolution is unimportant, but the idea of structural change–is that not revolutionary? But structural change must address the conditions that impede structural change and overcome them. Is that not–revolutionary?

End of my response on Jeff’s blog]

Since Jeff did not bother responding to my second response, it can be assumed that he agrees with the social-reformist left. He would probably then have remained silent when Tracy McMaster referred to “decent work” and “fair wages” in relation to the goals of striking brewery workers and a call for support. He would remain silent when he read Jane McAlevey’s new book, No Shortcuts: Organizing Power in the New Gilded Age although he noted many times her reference to good contracts. He would have remained silent when the Fight for $15 in Ontario was paired with the concept of “Fairness.”

Perhaps he has the same attitude as Tim Heffernan, a member of the Toronto Labour Committee and a member of the political organization, Socialist Alternative. I quote from part of a debate I had with him as a member of the Toronto Labour Committee:

Fred raises some interesting points. However, I think he’s confusing social-democratic/reformist demands with transitional demands. There’s a difference which I can elaborate on if needed but the practical contrast between them can be seen in Seattle itself where I would argue that Rosenblum encapsulated an honest and militant social democratic approach while Kshama Sawant & Socialist Alternative (also militant and honest) pushed the movement to its limits by raising the demand for 15/taxing the rich to the need for a socialist transformation of society. But I will concede that there are some in the US left who label SA as reformist too.

Also, we need to look at the concrete not the abstract. The “15 movement” in North America has seen different manifestations and the slogans/demands put forward have varied in time and place. So in Seattle in 2013-14, it was “15 Now”, in other parts of the US it became “15 and a union” and in Ontario it was ” 15 & Fairness”. Fred objects to the term “fairness” presumably because of its association with the old trade union demand of “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”. Engels dealt with this demand back in 1881 where he recognized the usefulness of it in the early stages of developing class consciousness of the British working class, in the first half of the 19th Century, but saw it as an impediment at the time he was writing.

To today and “15 and Fairness”. I think the addition of “fairness” to the straight “15” demand was an excellent move. Fairness wasn’t understood as an airy fairy, feel good notion but came to be seen as shorthand for a series of extra and linked demands that could mobilise low paid and exploited workers:
– paid sick days
– equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time)
– the right to a union
– the fight against racism and discrimination
and more

If the above be bullshit, so be it. I like to think that Engels, were he alive today, would have his criticisms of the limitations of 15 & Fairness but would be overwhelmingly positive about what it has achieved so far.

Tim

To which I responded:

Hello all,

Tim’s justification for “fairness” is that it is–somehow–a transitional demand. Let him elaborate on how it is in any way a “transitional” demand. I believe that that is simply bullshit.

He further argues the following:

“Fairness wasn’t understood as an airy fairy, feel good notion but came to be seen as shorthand for a series of extra and linked demands that could mobilise low paid and exploited workers:
– paid sick days
– equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time)
– the right to a union
– the fight against racism and discrimination
and more”

How does Tim draw such conclusions? It is a tautology (repetition of what is assumed to be true) to say that it is fair if “paid sick days, equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time), etc. is considered “fair.”

Why should these goals be tied to “fairness”? I had paid sick days at the brewery, I belonged to a union (there was, however, evident racism among some of the brewery workers and there was also a probationary six-month period before obtaining a full union-wage). Was that then a “fair” situation? I guess so–according to Tim’s logic. Why not then shut my mouth and not complain since I lived a “fair” life at the brewery? But, of course, I did not shut my mouth.

But does Tim believe that merely gaining “paid sick days, equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time), the right to a union, the fight against racism and discrimination and more” is fair? If he did, he would then presumably cease being a member of Socialist Alternative since he would have achieved his goals. However, he likely does not believe that it is fair. What he proposes, then, is to lie (bullshit) to workers by not revealing what he really believes as a “transitional” demand. He does not really believe that it is fair, but he believes that such rhetoric is a useful tool in developing a movement. Frankly, I believe that such a view is both dishonest and opportunistic. Workers deserve better–it is they who continue to be exploited despite “paid sick days,” etc. Receiving paid sick days is better than not receiving paid sick days, but all the demands obtained cannot constitute “fairness.” And yet workers who buy into the rhetoric (bullshit) of fairness may believe this fairy tale (it is, after all, a fairy tale presented by social democrats often enough, among others). Rather than enlightening the workers about their situation, such rhetoric serves to obscure it and to confuse workers–support for the Donald Trump’s of the world in the making.

Such low standards. Rather than calling into question the power of employers to direct their lives by control over the products of their own labour, it implicitly assumes the legitimacy of such power. Ask many of those who refer to the fight for $15 and Fairness–are they opposed in any way to the power of employers as a class? Not just verbally, but practically? Or do they believe that we need employers? That we need to have our work directed by them? That working for an employer is an inevitable part of daily life? That there is no alternative? That working for an employer is not really all that bad?

When working at the brewery, I took a course at the University of Calgary. The professor was interested in doing solidarity work for the Polish organization Solidarity at the time. I told him that I felt like I was being raped at the brewery. He looked at me with disgust–how could I equate being raped (sexually assaulted) with working for an employer? I find that radicals these days really do not seem to consider working for an employer to be all that bad. If they did, they probably would use the same logic as their opposition to sexual assault. Sexual assault in itself is bad, but there are, of course, different degrees of sexual assault. Those who sexually assault a person may do so more violently or less violently; in that sense, those who sexually assault a person less violently are “better” than those who are more violent. However, sexual assault is in itself bad, so any talk of “fairness” in sexually assaulting someone is absurd. Similarly, any talk of fairness in exploiting someone is absurd. But not for the “radical” left these days, it would seem.

Fred

Since Jeff chose not to indicate how he would respond to concrete developments within the labour movement, it is of course impossible to know whether he would simply accept Tim’s argument. On a practical level, the Toronto Labour Committee did.

Just one final point. Jeff identifies the splitting of reform and “revolution” with Lenin. Was Rosa Luxemburg then a Leninist?She wrote on the issue as well, criticizing the reformism of Eduard Bernstein, among others. So did Bebel and Parvus, etc.

By referring to Lenin, Jeff is in fact red-baiting. The typical red baiter tries to, implicitly or explicitly, link sweeping rejections of the radical left by linking them to Stalin and other dictators. Since Lenin and Stalin are linked historically (Stalin ultimately succeeded Lenin as leader of the Bolshevik party), then referring to Lenin without further ado is a red-baiting method of simply dismissing the opponent without providing any further argument.

I will leave Professor Noonan with his call for structural change since he, apparently, refuses to make any distinction between changes that challenge the structure of the system and those that do not. I predict that his view will not address the problems the working class face at this time. He, like Sam Gindin, speak of structural change–within the confines of capitalist relations of production and exchange–despite rhetoric to the contrary. The left, according to this view, is just one happy family that involves no internal conflicts and no divisions. It is, to paraphrase the German philosophy Hegel, a left where all cows are black (or, alternatively, all white).

In a later post, the issue of Professor Noonan’s position on collective bargaining will be addressed.

 

 

 

Once Again on the GM Plant Closure in Oshawa and the Limitations of the Social-Reformist Left

Sam Gindin published an article on the Socialist Project website entitled  GM Oshawa: Making Hope Possible. The following is a continuation of two previous posts on the closure and the inadequate nature of the social-reformist left in dealing with such closures (see Management Rights and the Crisis in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada: Limitations of the Reformist Left, Part One and  Management Rights and the Crisis in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada: Limitations of the Reformist Left, Part Two).

He divides his article into seven sections: 1. an introduction, 2. Workers as Collateral Damage; 3. Lame Politicians 4. The Union 5. Searching for Alternatives 6. Plan B. 7. Conclusion: Is This Really Feasible?

An implicit common thread throughout the various sections is the unfairness of GM’s actions and what to do about them. If the GM closure were not considered unfair, why would there be any concern at all? However, there is no explicit discussion about why it is unfair. This is characteristic of Mr. Gindin’s approach to working-class politics.

1. Introduction

Mr. Gindin claims that the typical measures to address such closures, such as traditional protests, simply will not work. What may work is, rather, democratic control through “community and national planning.” Before elaborating on this in section 6, , Mr. Gindin looks at the probable causes and consequences of the closure and the responses by politicians, the union and possible alternative solutions.

2. Workers as Collateral Damage

Mr. Gindin correctly points out that no matter what concessions workers make to employers, employers will try to find ways to move to places where it is more profitable. Despite the Oshawa plant being  productive materially and profitable in the production of cars and trucks, profitability is located more in truck production than in car production. Since GM has excess capacity in truck production, and the Oshawa plant only assembled trucks when the US plants could not keep up to demand, the decision to close the GM Oshawa plant makes sense from the perspective of GM.

The irony of a materially productive plant being closed down can be explained in Marxian terms (for further details, see my article, Dewey’s Materialist Philosophy of Education: A Resource for Critical Pedagogues? , page 278).

The purpose wealth in a capitalist society is hardly to serve the needs of workers and the community but to serve the needs of the accumulation of capital or more and more money as its own end. Given the need to accumulate capital constantly, it is hardly surprising to find closures occurring in various parts of the world as capital moves from one place to another in search of more surplus value (and profit).

It is interesting to note that the title of this section implies that workers are really mere means for the benefit of the class of employers, as outlined in The Money Circuit of Capital. Unfortunately, Mr. Gindin did not consider this to be characteristic of the experiences of workers on a daily basis in his practice in Toronto. For example, as one of the heads of the Toronto Labour Committee (an organization to which I belonged and from which I withdrew), Mr. Gindin did not find it useful to question the pairing of the Fight for $15 (a fight for the establishment of a minimum wage of $15 and changes in employment law beneficial to the working class, especially the poorer sections) with the idea of “fairness.” Indeed, he seemed opposed to bringing up the issue at a public forum. Moreover, when I questioned Tracy McMaster’s reference to “decent work” and “fair wages” in the context of a call for supporting striking brewery workers,  Mr. Gindin did not support my criticism of such terms. Quite to the contrary. He became quite apologetic of the term “decent work,” arguing that workers were using it as a defensive maneuver in these difficult times. Frankly, I think that that is bullshit–and I said so explicitly.

Mr. Gindin claimed that the Toronto Labour Committee should have a discussion some time about the nature of decent work and what it means–but I doubt that there has been much discussion about this. He himself indicated that he was afraid to become isolated–which meant being afraid of alienating too much trade-union representatives.

Now, Mr. Gindin sings a different tune, implying that workers are expendable no matter what they do.

In any case, Mr. Gindin’s rejection of my argument that we need to bring out into the open and discuss the idea that working for employers is somehow decent, or that employment laws and labour laws are somehow fair undermines his own claim that workers are “collateral damage”–even when there is a collective agreement. By rejecting democratic discussion of such ideology, workers are less likely to be prepared to address the problems that they now face in an adequate manner.

The third section of Mr. Gindin’s article, entitled Lame Politicians, should be aimed at Mr. Gindin, the Toronto Labour Committee and the social-reformist left characteristic of Toronto (and probably in other cities in Ontario and in Canada).

I will skip over that section since Mr. Gindin shares in the politicians’ lame response to the power of employers as a class.

4. The Union

Mr. Gindin rightly criticizes the union for making concessions in hope that jobs would be somehow guaranteed. However, as noted above, it is not just the particular union strategy of bending over backward to retain jobs but the whole union view of claiming that collective agreements somehow convert working for an employer into decent work despite the employer-employee relationship inherently making workers “collateral damage” even during the terms of the collective agreement. I have not seen Mr. Gindin once criticize explicitly the collective-bargaining process and its result, collective agreements. He and the Toronto Labour Committee have been too afraid of isolating themselves from the trade-union leadership–but that is surely what is necessary if typical trade-union rhetoric is going to be challenged.

5. Searching for Alternatives

Mr. Gindin outlines some possible alternative strategies open to Unifor (the union that represents the Oshawa workers at GM) in order to achieve the goal of maintaining the status quo (retention of jobs according to the signed collective agreement). Such strategies, such as boycotts or placing high tariffs on the import of cars from Mexico are unlikely to arise under the given circumstances. He mentions an occupation of the plant, but as he points out, an occupation without a plan is merely only a protest and not a solution to the problem facing the Oshawa workers.

This leads to his own preferred solution.

6. Plan B

Mr. Gindin claims that the only practical alternative is radical or revolutionary: it must break with previous models and focus on production for need and not for profit and competition. This would ignite the working-class imagination across the country, constituting a rallying point for working-class unity.

He correctly points out that GM will likely try to buy off some of the Oshawa workers through “pension top-ups and buyouts.” Unfortunately, he underestimates what would be required to counter such a strategy. My prediction is that such a strategy will work because of the lack of any effort to counter union rhetoric about “decent work,” “fair contracts,” “fairness,” “economic justice” and “fair labour laws.”

As already pointed out in various posts as well as this post, union leaders have generally become ideologists of employers by claiming that collective agreements, labour law and employment law are somehow fair. Workers have been spoon-fed the pabulum of “decent work,” “fairness” and “fair wages” for decades. Now, all of a sudden, they are supposed to shift gear and practically treat GM as unfair, their former jobs as indecent? They are supposed to become class conscious and act as a class despite the indoctrination that they experienced at school (see A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part Two: The Ontario History Curriculum and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees)?Similarly, they are supposed to envision all of a sudden a radical alternative without any discussion whatsoever of the nature of such a radical vision (see Socialism, Part One: What It May Look Like   , Socialism, Part Two: What It May Look LikeThe Canadian Left’s Lack of a Vision of the Good Life Beyond a Class of Employers  , Socialism, Part Three: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers)?

It is certainly an occasion to reflect on a possible alternative vision of production based on need and not on profit, but to be effective it is required to combine such a vision with a critique of the present structure of production, distribution, exchange and consumption–and with that the union rhetoric of “decent work/jobs,” “fair wages,” “fairness,” “fair labour laws,” or “economic justice.” Workers would need to prepare themselves ideologically for taking such measures and for a battle along class lines. Mr. Gindin has done nothing to prepare them for such a shift.

So, my prediction is that Mr. Gindin’s alternative vision of production in Oshawa shifting to production for need will falter because it is utopian. On the one hand, it would be necessary to criticize the current union leadership much more thoroughly than Mr. Gindin’s is willing to do. On the other hand, it lacks any plan for shifting the attitude of workers to a class attitude, grounded in an explicit understanding that they are mere means for the purposes of obtaining more and more money and that process is unfair to the core and needs to be rejected.

One final point. Mr. Gindin recommends that the Oshawa plant be seized without compensation. That sounds fair since GM received a substantial bailout without repayment. However, is it realistic? Mr. Gindin does not even consider how the US government would react to such a move. One historical incident illustrates the problem. The democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz, in Guatemala (a country just south of Mexico), in 1954, nationalized the United Fruit Company’s land (the United Fruit Company (UFC) was an American multinational). He offered compensation according to the value of the land claimed by the UFC on its taxes–around $600,000 according to some. UFC wanted $25 000 000. Arbenz refused to pay the sum. The United States government, through the CIA, overthrew Arbenz and installed a military dictatorship through Castillo Armas.

Why did Mr. Gindin not take into account the possible reaction of the United States government? Furthermore, given the ideological paablum of “decent work,” etc. across the country as well as economic indoctrination across the country (see  A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and EmployeesA Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part Two: The Ontario History Curriculum and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees), would other workers support such a seizure without compensation? This does not mean that there should be no seizure without compensation, but it is necessary to take into account the possible reaction of the United States government in proceeding with seizure with no compensation. Mr. Gindin fails to provide any consideration of this in his article.

So, Mr. Gindin’s conclusion that it is impossible to determine whether his proposed alternative is feasible is incorrect. It is likely utopian since it fails to break definitively with a one-sided union model that continues to justify the power of employers as a class. It also fails to realistically assess the level of support needed to protect the seizure of assets without compensation.

The title of Mr. Gindin’s article should read: GM Oshawa: Making False Hopes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Socialist Project’s Critique of Doug Ford’s Attack on Local Democracy Falls Short

The Socialist Project has rightly condemned Doug Ford (the new Premier of Ontario, Canada) for his unilateral reduction of the number of Toronto city councilors (in the midst of Toronto elections, no less–indeed, an autocratic act) (see Ford’s Attack on Local Democracy in Toronto).

Despite their criticism of Ford’s autocratic manner, they should also look at the so-called left’s own anti-democratic practices.

Being ignorant of who exactly are the members of the Socialist Project, I will limit my commentary to the probable membership of Sam Gindin in that organization.

I belonged to an organization called the Toronto Labour Committee until last November, when I resigned over what I perceived as a lack of discussion over what I considered to be vital issues relevant to regular members of the working class (not union representatives). My view is that the Toronto Labour Committee was too closely tied to the union movement and had compromised itself in several ways democratically. It is probable that the Socialist Project does the same.

I will not go into the details of how it compromised itself (of course, if Sam or other members of the Toronto Labour Committee raise the issue–then, of course, I will then pursue the issue in further detail).

I will simply point out one issue that illustrates the limited nature of the Socialist Project’s call for democracy in the case of Ford, which should also be directed at the so-called left.

From the Socialist Project’s post:

Democracy is not about “economic efficiency.” It is about providing for free and open debate and discussion between competing points of view in order to make decisions.

Is there any evidence that there is such “free and open debate and discussion between competing points of view in order to make decisions” within the Toronto Labour Committee? For example, I tried to raise the issue of health and safety and how systemic such problems were in the context of a capitalist economy (referring to the work by Bob Barnetston The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada, where he pointed out that over 1000 workers died a year on the job and over 630,000 are injured. There was silence.

Subsequently, when a representative of a local labour council called for support of some striking brewery workers here in Toronto, she justified her call for such support on the basis of referring to what the workers supposedly want–good jobs and a fair deal.

I had worked in a brewery for around four years in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I questioned this reference to a good (or decent) work and a fair contract. I did not try to attack the representative personally. I tried to address the issues.

I also pointed out that the striking workers did deserve our support–that it was a question of solidarity.

Wayne Dealy, who is a representative of a local Toronto union here, then intervened, stating the following:

Is this meant to be a serious intervention or are you taking the piss?

I expressed a point of view that was different–and was roundly insulted on a listserve.

I replied:

It is meant to be a serious intervention. If Wayne Dealy has something against the intervention–apart from emotional venting and insults-he is welcome to debate the issue.

Social democrats, unionists and others who consider themselves to be progressive often refer to good or decent jobs and fair contracts (deals). This is an assumption that is rarely questioned. Indeed, the tone of Wayne’s response is indicative of the lack of real concern over the issue of the power of employers as a class in relation to employees as a class. In other words, Wayne’s response itself shows just how much the issue needs to be debated. That topic will start to be addressed at the next Toronto Labour Committee on March 9, from 7:00-9:00 at 31 Wellesley.

Fred Harris, Ph. D., philosophy of education, former brewery worker

I was too hopeful. No one from the listserve–including Sam Gindin–addressed the real issues of whether there is such a thing as good jobs or a fair contract.

Wayne Dealy replied:

Deepest apologies. Those fourteen words have been buried deep inside
me for years and they could no longer be contained. I regret that you
suffered so for their ill-timed appearance.

Apologies too for not showing more gratitude for the fact that you
deigned to use Tracy’s call for picket-line support to explain to us
in plain language how wage labour is exploitative. Sam, David, Tracy
et al, I hope you all were taking notes. All of us on this list are
obviously and sorely in need of simple explanations of such things;
fortunately Fred is here to fill that void.

On a more personal note, thanks to your second intervention, my
consciousness has been raised even further: I now see the problem all
along was my “lack of real concern over the issue of the power of
employers as a class in relation to employees as a class”.

And the fact that you were able to suss me out from my fourteen
ill-chosen words? Mind. Blown.

Thanks again, truly, for sharing your insights. This group is
extremely fortunate to have a Promethean figure like yourself who so
selflessly kept the ember of class analysis alive so that it could be
shared with all us sinners.

Wayne.

p.s. If I had wanted to insult you I would have called you a
condescending prick

Wayne G. Dealy
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Political Science

 
University of Toronto

From there the issue got sidetracked, and the issue of whether there can be decent jobs or a fair contract in the context of a class of employers vanished (I take some responsibility–although only some responsibility for this–I got sidetracked rather than focusing on these two issues, which is what I should have done all along).

I doubt that there has been any real

free and open debate and discussion between competing points of view in order to make decisions.

The class issue has been buried by political rhetoric, insults and excuses. Sam Gindin, for example, used the excuse that the reference to “decent work” was a purely “defensive” move. Has there been any “free and open debate and discussion between competing points of view in order to make decisions” about the appropriateness of using such a term as “decent work” or a “fair contract”? I doubt it.

So-called socialists in Toronto (and probably elsewhere) should look internally to see whether they really are practicing “free and open debate and discussion between competing points of view in order to make decisions.” That would indeed be welcome.

As Alan R.H. Baker (Geography and History: Bridging the Divide) wrote, page 213:

I subscribe to consensual historical geography. Of course, any
consensus in history can be sought, and sometimes achieved, only by debate. This
brings me to my third principle of historical geography: debate is central to the
practice of historical geography. Rethinking and revising current, orthodox interpretations should be the norm in historical geography: it should be conventional to be radical. Current ideas and assertions must be, and must expect to be, revised as new evidence comes to light, as new techniques of analysis become available, as new problems deserving attention are identified, and as new ideas and theories are brought into play. Debate, both about substantive issues and about research methodologies, lies at the heart of historical geography as it does also of history (Fig. 6.3). Within historical geography, as within history, there should be an unrelenting criticism of all orthodoxies and conventional wisdoms, as well as an
unremitting awareness of discourses in cognate disciplines.

Do the so-called socialists really engage in debate with a view of achieving some kind of consensus? Will trade-union leaders abandon their views if it is shown that they are mistaken? If they do not, what will socialists do? Or are socialists so afraid of upsetting their trade-union connections (Sam Gindin once indicated that he did not want to become isolated) that they would practically desist from engaging in “free and open debate and discussion between competing points of view in order to make decisions?”

Sam Gindin claimed that we are supposed to be humble. Why? Why should regular workers be humble? They are oppressed and exploited every day. Why should they be humble in the face of union leaders who talk of fair contracts and good jobs? They should be angry at such talk–not humble. They deserve a far better life than what they now experience as things to be used by employers.

A final question: Is there free and open debate and open discussion between competing points of view” among regular workers about management rights, whether unionized or non-unionized? Frankly, I doubt it. If there is evidence to the contrary, I hope others would correct my error.